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Information Cascades in Swarms

Link: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0040084

The spatial aggregation of animals, such as bees, fish, and birds, is a common phenomenon that occurs in the natural world and provides functions (e.g. protection and migration) necessary for the species’s survival. Scientists are very interested in the process during which individual members get together and coordinate as a group. There is a long-held assumption that information cascades plays an important role in the formation and dynamics of the swarms. In this paper, researchers go beyond traditional theoretical frames and propose an innovative quantitative approach to measure and analyze the information cascades within the swarms and to what extent it impacts the collective communication.

To set up their quantitative model, researchers utilizes two frameworks for local information dynamics, Active Information Storage (AIS), the amount of information of the past states being used to predict a future state, and Transfer Entropy (TE), the directed information transfer from a source to a destination agent (the new information about the next state being transferred from the source is not included in the destination’s past). They make two fundamental hypothesis. Firstly, the AIS reflects the collective memory of the swarm, which is beneficial for the behavioral conformity of individual members and the coherence of the whole group. Secondly, the TE captures the information cascades/transfer of information within the swarm.

Using the model proposed above, researchers carried out two experiments to collect and analyze the AIS and TE data in different situations. In the first experiment, they studies the information cascades after a local disturbance occurs inside a swarm. In the second experiment, scientists studies the changes of AIS and TE when three swarms merge. By analyzing the changes of and relationships between AIS and TE values, they found that information cascades does exist within the swarm and is fundamental for coordinating individual members’ actions, boosting behavioral conformity, and making the state of the swarm steady. This research provides the first quantitative evidence for the existence of information cascades within the swarms and the extent to which it influences the dynamics of the swarms.

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